Somali women criticise al-Shabaab's strict code of conduct

By Mahmoud Mohamed in Mogadishu

April 13, 2012

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Leaders of women's organisations and advocates for women's rights say the societal system Islamist fundamentalists impose on women violates their rights and severely encumbers their daily lives.

  • Women in al-Shabaab-controlled Elasha Biyaha in February watch Al-Shabaab militants following the announcement of the merger between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. [Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP]

    Women in al-Shabaab-controlled Elasha Biyaha in February watch Al-Shabaab militants following the announcement of the merger between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. [Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP]

Activists accuse the al-Qaeda allied al-Shabaab of harassing and oppressing women by subjecting them to harsh measures, preventing them from working and forcing them to abide by a strict dress code.

"The harassment faced by women in areas under Islamist fundamentalist control is immeasurable," said Sudi Mohammed Ali, activist and financial and administrative director for the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs.

"Al-Shabaab forces women to wear a certain type of clothing that is not available everywhere and is too expensive for most poor families," she told Sabahi.

She said incidences of abduction and forced marriage of girls have risen during the past couple of years, adding that fundamentalists use forced marriage to assert control over local residents, even though this form of marriage usually does not last more than several weeks.

"They consider this to be an easy way to raise declining morale among their fighters," she said. "The gunmen resort to kidnapping girls to perform different services. They become wives or maids in their homes and camps."

17-year-old girl kidnapped

Zainab Omar, a 63-year old mother of five, had a daughter kidnapped by gunmen.

"About a year and a half ago, an extremist came to our home and said he wanted to marry my 17-year old daughter. I rejected his proposal, as the girl was still too young and did not want to marry him," she told Sabahi.

Omar said the militant returned to the house on more than occasion. Each time, the family rejected his proposal.

"One night, the militant came to our house with a group of armed men. They forced their way in, threatening us with their weapons," she said. "There were five gunmen, and they blindfolded my daughter, tied her hands and forced her to get into a car they were driving."

Omar said she does not know what happened to her daughter. "I feel sadness and grief because I do not know if my daughter is alive or not," she said. "I haven't heard her voice since that night."

Omar said she left her town after the incident because she feared for her life; she now lives in a camp for internally displaced persons in Mogadishu.

"Families who try to prevent their children from fighting [with the militants] or prevent their daughters from being kidnapped by gunmen suffer horrible consequences that might even go as far as murder," she said.

Faiza Mohamed, a women's rights activist with the Voice of Somali Women for Peace organisation, said, "Somali women have been the target of increasingly harsh orders implemented by fundamentalists in the areas they control," she said.

Mohamed escaped an area under al-Shabaab control after she was banned from working, and the militants closed the offices where she worked.

"Al-Shabaab is the enemy of women," she said. "The lives of women who live in areas under al-Shabaab's control have become hell because of the group's cruel code of conduct."

Mohamed said the group has issued arbitrary decisions that restrict women's rights, such as prohibiting them from selling qat, typically a female profession.

"Gunmen usually prevent women from working and impose a certain dress code," she said. "Individuals who do not follow the dress code or perform illegal acts are punished according to the militants' penal system."

Meriem Mualim Mahmoud, a human rights activist, said, "The fundamentalists commit atrocious acts against women including kidnapping, murder, public stoning and forced marriage. Militants use religion as a tool to achieve their goals in a way that contradicts Somali values and traditions."

Mahmoud said that while al-Shabaab claims to be an Islamist movement seeking to implement Sharia law in Somalia, their subjugation of women does not jibe.

"The Somali personal status law criminalises forced marriage and marriage of underage girls. Islam also strongly opposes forced marriage imposed on underage girls," she told Sabahi.

"I want these men to remember that their mothers are women, as are their daughters, sisters and wives," she said. "How would they feel if one of them was oppressed?"

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Reader's Comments

  • Kafia
    July 13, 2012 @ 07:31:21AM

    With the terrorists tried to control Somalia and thanks Allah they fail , it was evident that the woman and the girl child have no say on the jurisdiction of the same. This can only be changed by defeating terrorists and if the girl child is allowed to attend classes, just like any other child, and taught leadership skills on the same. There should be a nation wide education to realize that women too can be leaders in the country. Just like the same way, when the Egyptian women took to the streets to ask for their voice being heard, and being given a chance to take in major seats in the country. With the lesson learnt from Egypt, the Somali elders and people need to listen to the voice of women, and hear out what they have to say. This is the only way that there will be more woman rights in the country, hence making the country move ahead.

  • Abdiwali
    April 28, 2012 @ 05:02:25AM

    Educated women are behind any progress in societies, because they are the mothers, the teachers and the educator who raise their own children correctly, and according to the right methods. They gain the results when they see their children grow up healthy, help their country and community, share in their society's development and progress. We all know the famous proverb," Behind each great man, there is a great woman." The great woman is the one who grants with no limits in the all fields of life. Her participation help overcome all obstacles, solve all problems, and reach best results because she the main partner in the biggest project in life which is 'the family'! She invests the human resources according to the needs of society for efficiencies and potentials. She produces the engineer, the doctor, the teacher, the preacher, and the scientist. Briefly, the woman is the treasure that contains the most precious gems if correctly treated and used by man, she will benefit him morally and physically, and materially. We should never neglect her role in the modern civilized societies.

  • Ibrahim
    April 20, 2012 @ 01:00:43AM

    to brother Hafiz, God bless you what you said about "MEN SHOULD ENJOY A WOMAN WHO WILLINGLY LOVE HIM.... BUT THE ABDUCTED ONE IS A CURSE... AND ALLAH S.W.T WILL MUST PUNISH SUCH MAN... AND ALSO WELL SAID BY MRS OMAR... SUCH MAN SHOULD REMEMBER THEIR MOMS/SISTERS/WIVES AND OFCOZ THE MOST PAINFULL.... THEIR DAUGHTERS" is write but Al-Shabab they are not men in the first place they are group of dogs.

  • Aziz Abdullahi
    April 17, 2012 @ 08:07:47PM

    Damn you al Shabab, you are just rapists and murderers. You deserve hell. How do you kidnap women and rape them? Can not we find one single man among you? Or you all are a punch of cowards? May God avenge you in this life and the severe torture waits for you in the Hereafter because what you are committing in Somalia. The small girl refused to get married to one of you, how do you commit this monstrous act? You are merciless beasts; you must be killed at once when you are arrested.

  • Samatar
    April 17, 2012 @ 07:50:17PM

    This is what is expected from some ignorant with weapons in their hands, oppressing the freedoms and persecution of women. For they demand that women must cover their whole bodies and faces, sit at home imprisoned. They don't know that by doing so, they disable half of the society. Go to hell you fool!

  • Fermaato
    April 17, 2012 @ 07:43:23PM

    Where did those who prevent women from work get this right from? If women were deprived to work, they would be followers to men and would never be able to achieve any success in life! Haven't you seen Islam referring to the importance of work? Didn't these people disobey God? The Somali government must put an end to these terrorists because we can't live in 2012 and women still are treated as if in the middle Ages. Stop acting stupidly" Shabaab" for you are not Muslims basically. You don't have the right to speak on behalf of Islam because you are infidels and don't deserve to be described as being Muslims.

  • shukri
    April 17, 2012 @ 09:20:18AM

    Islam doesnt advocate for forcefull marriage. This is where our beloved Prophet Muhamaad (PBUH) said "No wedlock without the consent of the parent of the doughter" Where does this bandits geting their reference from? Oh God this are the rats that need to be wipped out of Somalia as Somalia is 100% Islam.

  • hafiz khan
    April 16, 2012 @ 08:56:27AM

    MEN SHOULD ENJOY A WOMAN WHO WILLINGLY LOVE HIM.... BUT THE ABDUCTED ONE IS A CURSE... AND ALLAH S.W.T WILL MUST PUNISH SUCH MAN... AND ALSO WELL SAID BY MRS OMAR... SUCH MAN SHOULD REMEMBER THEIR MOMS/SISTERS/WIVES AND OFCOZ THE MOST PAINFULL.... THEIR DAUGHTERS.

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